The just released book Peril, written by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa about the last months of the Trump Administration, contains a fleeting reference to … Idaho. It’s worth pondering for a moment.
The mention comes in a story about Adam Smith, a Washington state Democratic House member who was flying home from D.C. two days after the January 6 riot at the capitol.
Once seated, he discovered he was on an unusually (at the time) crowded flight - crowded mostly with MAGA-hatted Trump supporters, about a hundred he estimated, most also on their way home, also fresh from the events at the capitol.
Smith adjusted his mask and kept quiet, but listened carefully.
He heard, amid some racist and anti-semitic talk, an almost profound sense of not just disappointment but of bitter despair, with lots of talk about the nation falling into collapse. One young man, dejected about the way things were going, said he was thinking about moving to South Korea. (His reason was that it’s 90 percent Christian; the actual percentage is about a third of that.)
Another passenger said that no, he shouldn’t leave the country. Instead, she said, “You should move to Idaho.”
The man replied, apparently rejecting that idea: “I just don’t think they have decent seafood in Idaho.”
Okay. Hold it right there.
I will attest as a fact that you can get decent seafood in Idaho, even much better than decent if you shop carefully and choose your restaurants well. I’ve done that on any number of occasions. So let’s put that one to rest right now.
But what about the idea that Idaho is the kind of place for that disillusioned MAGA crowd on the flight Adam Smith shared?
That particular question was not taken up in Peril, but given the state of Idaho politics today, you’d have to say the woman offering the suggestion wasn’t far off track.
Trump last year lost his race for re-election (yes he did - period) nationally, but he did win in Idaho by a landslide, with nearly 64 percent of the vote. Over the last four years, Trump gained political ground in Idaho, quite a bit. Outside of Boise and a few scattered small communities, MAGA support remains easy to find.
But what about the attitude - the sense of dejection, that all is lost?
Yes, that too sounds a lot like a lot of Idaho today.
Listen to the activist political forces, the ones generating legislative action and protests, shouting and yelling. If you listen to what they say, there’s remarkably little upbeat or optimistic there, little in favor of much of anything (except Trump, but not always even him); the prevailing attitude is that America and American society are all going to hell. There are no happy warriors here.
And for all the protests and proposed legislation, there’s really nothing on offer as a real option to try to stem the tide or actually make improvements in the state. There’s legislation relating to masking requirements and critical race theory and so on, but these are not really presented as an answer to anything, as something that will improve Idaho’s government or society. They’re presented mainly as a weapon with which they “own the libs.” They’re gestures.
This is very different from the Idaho of a generation or two ago: The mood then was highly upbeat, including across much of Idaho politics. And it is true that even now many of Idaho’s top political leaders (Governor Brad Little for one, and a significant number of others) do try to stay on the sunny side where they can.
But the activist side of Idaho politics, the social force increasingly driving the agenda?
That mopey guy on the cross country plane flight probably would have found a copacetic place if he’d taken the advice and parachuted out over Idaho.